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Why Your Sleep Position Determines Your Quality of Rest

We spend about one-third of our lives in these positions, but what are they doing for us?

Sep 03, 2020

We all have a favorite sleep position. In most cases, it’s a matter of preference. We crawl into bed each night and land in a way that feels the most comfortable to us. When we do, we’re not really thinking about how that position impacts our quality of sleep each night. We definitely should! We spend roughly one-third of our lives in that position, sleeping. Every sleep position has its positive and negative impacts on our breathing, bone and muscle support, and overall long term health. We’ve laid them out for you: 

On Your Back 

Sleeping on your back is one of the least popular sleep positions. The National Sleep Foundation found that only 8% of people sleep on their backs. Despite its lack of popularity, this position is actually one of the best ways to sleep for most people. With proper neck support, it aids your body’s natural alignment and helps to release pressure from your muscles and joints.


Unlike other positions, which bend and twist your body, sleeping on your back evenly distributes your weight, making it less likely that you’ll wake up with aches and pains. That’s why this position is commonly recommended for people who find themselves experiencing physical discomfort throughout the day. For people who have trouble breathing or tend to snore, sleeping on your back can make this problem more severe. This position causes your tongue to relax in the back of your mouth, blocking your airway, and leading you to sleep with your mouths open in order to catch air.

On Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach is also one of the least common sleep positions, with only about 7% of people favoring it. Unlike sleeping on your back, this lack of popularity is for good reason. This position is one of the least recommended for most people. The reason being, a lot of pressure is put on your organs and airways when you sleep on them. This pressure is more likely to lead to discomfort throughout the night and soreness in the mornings.

Additionally, laying on your stomach requires your head to be turned to one side and this can have long-term impacts on your neck and shoulders. The biggest and perhaps only benefit of sleeping on your stomach is that it’s more likely to stop snoring due to the fact that you’re facing downward. 


On Your Side 

Side-sleeping definitely has more pros than cons, especially on the left side. Left-side sleeping has proven to positively increase blood flow to the heart, release pressure from the spine, and support airways. This position is great for people who snore (and their partners). It’s also the most recommended position for pregnant people. It’s not that right-side sleeping is necessarily bad, it’s just that there is more cardiovascular support by laying on your left side.

The major con for sleeping on your side is that it speeds up the appearance of wrinkles. This is because it forces you to spend most of the night smooshed into the pillow. One quick solution is to switch to a silk pillowcase! Silk is less abrasive on the skin, making it the perfect companion for side-sleepers. 

In the Fetal Position

The fetal position is the most popular sleep position among adults. This position has basically all of the same benefits as side-sleeping–its biggest benefit is that it relieves pressure from your back. The downside of sleeping in the fetal position is actually due to the curling up of your legs. It compresses the diaphragm, causing your body to work harder for a deep breath. It’s been said that sleeping with a body pillow or with a pillow between the legs can help you maintain a healthier posture in this position. 

It’s important to note that there’s no right position to sleep in each night. While some positions have more benefits than others, how you sleep ultimately depends on your existing health, what you find most comfortable, and the quality of sleep you’re trying to achieve each night.

Written by Cybele Ramirez

Cybele is a freelance writer covering all things culture and lifestyle. She’s also a content strategist in the tech startup space and mastering Media Studies at The New School. You can find this native New Yorker canoodling her two dogs, trying out a new recipe, or on IG @cybelina.

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